January has been so gray and rainy, but when I think of the month as a whole, I think of bubbly champagne, softness and warmth, and vibrant winter citrus! Grapefruit, Meyer lemons, blood oranges. There are so many fun and zesty flavors to play with. Thus: the Winter Citrus & Champagne Cake. A spot of delicious sunshine in a stretch of dreary weather.
I’ve had the idea for this cake for a couple of weeks, and the final result made me so happy!
The cake layers are adapted from my two layer yellow cake recipe, and I sliced each layer in half to create four layers. Alternately, you could bake four thin cake layers. Splitting layers like that is not my strong suit, but thankfully you can’t really tell that some of the layers are wonky in the final product! The cake is flavored with lemon extract and lots of zest. I like to try to get the zest pieces really small so you don’t really notice their texture in the crumb.
The Winter Citrus Curd
For the curd between the layers I used Meyer lemon, navel orange, and blood orange. You need one cup of citrus juice, and you can really do any combination of citrus fruit juice as long as you end up with that amount. Zest from each goes in as well. I messed up my first batch of curd and the eggs scrambled, so the second time I very carefully beat the eggs, added sugar & zest and beat again, and then whisked in the citrus juice. Eggs are too expensive to trash a batch of curd, y’all!! Speaking of insane egg prices—many curd recipes use several yolks. Like five or six. To avoid that, I used three whole eggs. I would have liked for it to be less than that, but the whole eggs also help the curd thicken up. So you don’t end up slicing into your cake and have the curd leak out from between the layers.
Let’s talk about champagne! You don’t have to use anything fancy here. I picked up a bottle of Prosecco from Trader Joe’s for $6.99. Half a cup goes into the cake batter to help with texture (you don’t really get any flavor from that amount in the cake). The rest goes into a saucepan on the stove and is reduce to 1 cup. I’ve rambled on about reductions here on the blog before so I won’t get into it too much now, but this helps remove some of the liquid while keeping all of the flavor. You can add flavor without having to add a ton of extra liquid and altering the texture of your frosting, cake, or whatever you’re flavoring. The reduction is used to flavor the buttercream, and it’s also dabbed onto the cake layers before frosting!
If you’re in need of some sunshine or fine yourself with a bounty of winter citrus fruits, I hope you’ll give this Winter Citrus & Champagne Cake a try! It’s a little bit of effort, but so so worth it. You can even make the champagne reduction and the citrus curd a day or two in advance and store in the fridge if you’d like to break up the process.
Happy baking! 💛
More Winter Citrus Cake Recipes:
Rosemary Meyer Lemon Cake
Blood Orange Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Pound Cake
Winter Citrus & Champagne Cake
Winter Citrus Curd
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp meyer lemon zest
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 tbsp blood orange zest
- 3 large eggs
- ⅓ cup fresh meyer lemon juice
- ⅓ cup fresh orange juice
- ⅓ cup fresh blood orange juice
- Pinch of salt
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter diced
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 tbsp meyer lemon zest
- 1 tbsp orange or blood orange zest
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- 1 tsp butter flavoring optional
- ¾ cups milk
- ½ cup champagne
- 1 750 ml bottle champagne minus the ½ cup used in the cake
- 1 cup butter room temperature
- 1 cup shortening
- 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
- 2 tbsp champagne reduction
- 4 cups powdered sugar
To make the winter citrus curd:
- In a medium-sized bowl, add sugar and citrus zests and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant and sugar is yellowish/orange. Add eggs and mix with an electric mixer until completely combined.
- Pour the egg and sugar mixture into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the citrus juice.
- Cook until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly, about 10 to 15 minutes. The curd should be able to coat a wooden spoon. If the curd isn’t thickening, turn up the heat a little and continue whisking constantly.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and butter until melted and completely incorporated.
- Transfer citrus curd into a heat-safe bowl or container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, or overnight.
- Citrus curd can be made a day or two in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator.
To make the citrus cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In another bowl, add sugar and both zests. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until very fragrant and sugar takes on a yellowish-orange hue.
- Add sugar and zest mixture to the flour mixture. Then add eggs, oil, lemon extract, butter flavoring (if using), and milk. Mix on medium speed with an electric mixer until just blended. Stir in champagne.
- Divide batter evenly between cake pans. Bake for 23-25 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and set in the center. (Test by inserting a toothpick into the center of each cake layer. If it comes out clean, they're done!)
- Let cakes cool in pans for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the champagne reduction:
- Pour the champagne (minus the ½ cup used in the cake - there should be about 2 ⅔ to 2 ¾ cup remaining) into a saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 to 30 minutes. (This is something you can do while doing other things around the kitchen, checking and giving it a stir every now and then. Just make sure to keep it at a simmer.)
- Let the reduction cool completely before using. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- You can also make this a day or two in advance and keep it plastic wrapped in the fridge.
To make the champagne buttercream:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and shortening on medium speed with the paddle attachment until fluffy and mixture is a pale yellow color.
- Remove paddle attachment and replace with the whisk attachment.
- Add cream, champagne reduction, and half of the powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until mostly combined. Repeat with second half of powdered sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix for one additional minute to make sure everything is combined and fluffy.
- Using a cake saw or a serrated knife, remove domed tops of cake layers. Then carefully cut each cake layer in half horizontally to create four thin layers.
- Using a pastry brush, dab remaining champagne reduction on the tops of each cake layer.
- Place one layer on a plate or cake stand and top with a thin layer of frosting. Pipe a border of frosting around the top of the cake layer (I used a piping bag with the tip cut off, no decorating tip). Add 2-3 spoonfuls of citrus curd (make sure to give the curd a good stir or whisk before using) and spread to the frosting border.
- Repeat with the next two cake layers, and place the fourth cake layer on top. Spread remaining frosting around the outside and on top of the cake. (If it’s hard to frost the cake at any point or the layers are moving around too much while you’re trying to frost, you can put the cake in the fridge for about 20 minutes to help it firm up.)
- If you’d like to make the citrus/rose design on top, cut thin slices of oranges, meyer lemons, and blood oranges. Cut each slice in half so they’re half-circles. Then arrange in a small circle, letting them overlap. Use bigger pieces on the bottom and smaller pieces as you move up. Roll one half-circle up to make the center.
- Store cake in the refrigerator; thaw for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
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